Ascot Gold Cup hero Big Orange ruled out for the season

Last year's Ascot Gold Cup winner Big Orange will not defend his crown this year after trainer Michael Bell revealed his star stayer has an injury which has ruled him out for the rest of the season.

The popular seven-year-old, who last ran on Dubai World Cup night, was due to start his European campaign in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown later this month, a race he captured last year en route to winning a thrilling duel with Order Of St George at Royal Ascot.

The news is a big blow to Bell, who said: "Big Orange was scanned this evening and he has damaged his off-fore suspensory which is definitely season ending but hopefully not career ending.

"He is 100 per cent sound at the trot but Tyrone my head lad picked up some heat in his right fore this evening and the scan revealed a small hole.

"With protracted rest and recuperation the initial veterinary advice is that it should heal and we hopefully have a good chance of getting him back next year."

Big Orange has become one of the most popular Flat horses in training. A homebred owned by Bill and Tim Gredley, he first came to prominence when showing his now familiar battling qualities to win the Princess Of Wales's Stakes in 2015 at 25-1 and followed up with the first of two Goodwood Cups that same month.

He has since contested some of the world's biggest staying prizes, including a fifth-placed finish in the 2015 Melbourne Cup and a neck second in the Dubai Gold Cup.

He finally bagged a first Group 1 when, under what was widely seen as one of the rides of the season from James Doyle, he held off short-priced favourite Order Of St George in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last year. He was denied a second when bidding for a hat-trick in the newly upgraded Goodwood Cup by Stradivarius.

Prior to news of his injury breaking, Big Orange had been available at 7-1 to defend his Gold Cup title. Order Of St George shortened with a few firms but remains a 3-1 favourite to go one better, while layers took much the same approach to second-favourite Stradivarius (5-1 generally).

Big Orange and James Doyle at Royal Ascot last year, picture Liesl King